You Don't Get to Be Pharoah by Working Hard Building Pyramids
When I decided to drastically scale back my posting and concentrate mainly on organizational behavior stuff, I figured that meant the "Vulgar Libertarianism Watch" thing had probably run its course. But when a target this easy comes along, I just can't pass it up. Via Julian Sanchez. Jagdish Bhagwati argues in the Financial Times (where else?) that "technology, not globalisation, drives wages down":
The culprit is not globalisation but labour-saving technical change that puts pressure on the wages of the unskilled. Technical change prompts continual economies in the use of unskilled labour. Much empirical argumentation and evidence exists on this. But a telling example comes from Charlie Chaplin’s film, Modern Times. Recall how he goes berserk on the assembly line, the mechanical motion of turning the spanner finally getting to him. There are assembly lines today, but they are without workers; they are managed by computers in a glass cage above, with highly skilled engineers in charge.
This is the kind of by-the-numbers puff piece I'd expect from the Adam Smith Institute. Shifting the blame from "globalization" to "technological progress" doesn't do much good. The neoliberal argument that "technological progress" is some anonymous force of nature holds no more water than the similar neoliberal defense of "globalization" as something that "just growed."
The state's R&D subsidies, its subsidies for substituting capital for labor, its subsidies to technical education, its patent system--all of them have had a massive distorting effect in promoting skill- and capital-intensive forms of production. And in the process, they have promoted the deskilling of blue collar labor, the shifting of control over production work from the shop floor to white collar hierarchies, technological unemployment, and a two-tier job market.
This sort of thing is by no means a monopoly of the "free market" right, by the way. It's also quite popular among technocratic liberals, who likewise see such technological trends as a force of nature, and see universal higher ed and "job retraining" as the answer to everything. See, if everybody has a master's degree, then everybody will be a manager or engineer--just like that!
Joe Bageant, who apparently inherited the mantle of Christopher Lasch, made quick work of such meritocratic bullshit after getting a pile of it in a reader email. The reader signed his (her?) name "Kelly," but I wonder if he wasn't deliberately adopting the pose of an over-the-top, type-A personality as some sort of satiric commentary on that social type (like "Frank Grimes" on The Simpsons, or "Norman Greene" in The House Next Door):
I starved my way through college and am now making $75,000 a year -- and I'm only 27. I made it through by the skin of my teeth, fearing every moment that I wouldn't make tuition, that I'd be kicked out of the dorms and have nowhere to live. When they gave me my diploma, I was crying so hard I couldn't see. I forgot to shake the dean's hand. It wasn't easy, but with a little sacrifice it was possible. Upward mobility in the U.S. is neither a myth nor a pipe dream.
The reason these people you talk about can't move up in life is nobody's fault but their own. They are the reason I despair for this country. We have become lazy, fat and stupid. I appreciate your attempts to exonerate the masses, but unfortunately, even without "The man keeping them down" most of these people would be still doomed to failure. There's no reason they can't go to college. They just don't want to.
Look at it this way: The empire needs only about 20-25% of its population at the very most to administrate and perpetuate itself -- through lawyers, insurance managers, financial managers, college teachers, media managers, scientists, bureaucrats, managers of all types and many other professions and semi-professions.
What happens to the rest? They are the production machinery of the empire and they are the consumers upon [whom] the empire depends to turn profits. If every one of them earned a college degree it would not change their status, but only drive down wages of the management class, who are essentially caterers to the corporate financial elites who govern most things simply by controlling the availability of money at all levels, top to bottom, hence your hard struggle to pay for college in an entirely capitalist profit driven economy....
Clawing down basic things like an education in such a competitive, reptilian environment makes people hard. And that's what the empire wants, hardassed people in the degreed classes managing the dumbed down, over-fed proles whose mental activity consists of plugging their brains into their television sets so they can absorb the message to buy more, and absorb themselves in the bread and circus spectacles provided them through profitable media corporations operating mainly as extensions of the capitalist state's propaganda system, such as "buy this," or "you have it better than anyone in the world," (not at all true). The more generations subjected to this, the more entrenched ignorance, materialism and lack of intellectual drive becomes. So you are right to the degree that we live in a degraded society. But the dumb mooks down on the corner did not do the degrading. They never had that much power.
There are only so many vacancies at the top of the pyramid. If you don't change the shape of the pyramid itself to make it less hierarchical, the only thing you'll accomplish by giving everybody a master's degree will be to increase the educational requirements for dragging around a giant block of granite.